Member for Isaacs

ABC News Breakfast 4 February 2013

04 February 2013

TOPICS: Discrimination consolidation legislation; Newspoll; Cabinet reshuffle.

Minister for Emergency Management


TOPICS: Discrimination consolidation legislation; Newspoll; Cabinet reshuffle

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The Prime Minister's new front bench will be sworn in this morning at Government House in Canberra. The resignations of key Cabinet ministers Nicola Roxon and Chris Evans triggered Saturday's reshuffle. Mark Dreyfus will replace Ms Roxon as Attorney-General. He joins us now from
Parliament House. Mr Dreyfus, good morning and congratulations.

MARK DREYFUS, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thank you very much, Michael. Good morning.

ROWLAND: Now, as the new Attorney-General, after about eleven o'clock or so this morning you'll have carriage, amongst other things, of those new anti-discrimination laws of course. There's been a lot of criticism about those laws. And we saw last week a back down on one of the key clauses. Do you believe the
Government has overreached here?

DREYFUS: The intention of the Government was to consolidate five Acts that together make up our anti-discrimination scheme in Australia. They've been enacted over about four decades, Michael. And putting them together is quite a big drafting task. That's why it was absolutely appropriate to put out a consultation draft, which is what my predecessor, Nicola Roxon, did last year, seeking public comment from people that are interested. And then it's the Government's intention - it's a very good practice. It's the Government's intention to take on board those comments and produce a final draft that will be presented to Parliament.

There's a senate committee looking at this consultation draft of the Bill. It's sitting today actually. And the secretary of the Attorney-General's department is going to be going to that senate committee and put forward some redrafting possibilities for the section that you mention.

ROWLAND: The reason I ask you the question of course, Mark Dreyfus, in your career as a barrister you've been a great defender of free speech. In fact, you've represented many organisations in defamation actions. Do you fear - and, of course, it is subject to consultation - but you obviously know all about the
legislation. Do you fear it impinges too much on free speech?

DREYFUS: I think it's very important that we strike the right balance between protecting the community and making sure that we also protect full discussion, free speech about Government and public affairs. And I'm going to be working to ensure that the Bill - the final form of the Bill that we present to Parliament - strikes the right balance. And, certainly, I'll be taking on board the comments that we've seen come forward in the last several months since the consultation draft was released. But I'd stress again, Michael, this was a consultation draft. It's a perfectly good process for Government to put out something like this, which is a very substantial redraft, in order to make sure that the final form of the Bill's exactly right.

ROWLAND: Okay. Labor goes into this critical first week of Parliament this year with the news that Newspoll has its primary vote down by six points. What impact will that have on Labor MPs?

DREYFUS: We'll be going on with the task of Government. Michael, I don’t think that there's ever much point commenting on individual polls. They fluctuate wildly. We've seen that in the last many months. We've seen that over years. They fluctuate about as wildly as Tony Abbott's election promises. I'd give defence
as an example of that. Just recently Tony Abbott was saying that there'd be real growth in the defence spending. And now he's apparently saying that there'll be no more cuts. And that's the sort of jumping around that makes it impossible to know what a Coalition Government would ever actually do other than, I think, cut
services and cut jobs.

ROWLAND: Yes. Despite all that though voters far prefer the Coalition to the - this country's Government. A primary vote of only thirty-two per cent is pretty bad news for any party.

DREYFUS: The poll that matters is the one that's going to be conducted on 14 September. In the meantime, as the Prime Minister said, Michael, we've got a big job of governing our country, not getting distracted with endless politicking and campaigning. And that's why the Prime Minister gave the excellent certainty that the country now has by announcing the election date last week.

ROWLAND: There's been a lot of criticism about the timing of that reshuffle announcement on Saturday. There are reports this morning, Mark Dreyfus, that Julia Gillard didn't do this last year. She had full knowledge, according to those reports, that Nicola Roxon and Chris Evans did want to leave politics. She didn't want to do that last year because any reshuffle could have triggered a leadership spill. What do you say about those reports?

DREYFUS: Well, I don't agree with any suggestion that there would have been a leadership spill at any time. That happened - there was an attempt made to change the leadership right at the start of last year, and that was the end of the matter, as all concerned have said. One could always criticise the timing of any
change in a ministry but, equally, none of these jobs is for life, Michael. People come into politics and they have to go at times, they would hope, of their choosing. That's what's been able to be possible for Nicola Roxon and for Chris Evans after making a tremendous contribution to Australian politics. And we've got the new ministry with this relatively minor reshuffle all sorted before Parliament starts tomorrow for the year.

ROWLAND: And finally, Mark Dreyfus, as a Victorian MP would you support Steve Bracks as the candidate for Nicola Roxon's seat of Gellibrand?

DREYFUS: Steve Bracks was a great Premier of Victoria. I've known Steve a very long time. I've worked with him. He'd make a great contribution to our federal team.

ROWLAND: Would you like him to run?

DREYFUS: He'd make a great contribution and I'm sure he'll be right at the - if he does decide to run he'll be right at the top of what I'd expect to be quite a large field.

ROWLAND: There you go. Mark Dreyfus, in Cabinet, thank you very much for your time this morning.

DREYFUS: Thanks, Michael.